Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Queen's Birthday Weekend

Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Over Queen's Birthday weekend (first weekend in June, but that's not actually her birthday...whatever...) we decided to venture to a place we hadn't been before in New Zealand - Martinborough and the Wairarapa.  Way down towards the far south of the North Island.

In order to NOT spend the whole weekend driving we flew to Wellington on Friday after work and had a wonderful dinner with some Auckland friends that just so happened to be in Welly as well. Then on Saturday we got a car and went an hour northeast.

On the way to Martinborough we stopped for a while in Greytown, a charming village with the most interesting chocolate shop - Schoc Chocolate.  They make it all there of course but have the most interesting flavour combinations.  Sesame.  Caraway and almond. Carrot and corriander.  Lime and chili. Sounds odd, but it's amazingly good! We bought, um, lots.

Martinborough is a main wine growing region - especially known for Pinot Noir - so yeah we may have visited a winery or six while we there on Saturday and Sunday.  Really interesting, usually small wineries with really good wine.  Be bought, um, lots.

The last day, Monday, we drove out to the rugged Wairarapa coast which was quite striking, chock full of seals, waves, rocky coastline, and even a lighthouse at Cape Palliser.  Just lovely.  Then it was back to Wellington for our flight back to our silly cat Remy.

It was great to see yet another part of this beautiful country.  Plus really just an excuse to get away.  Again.

More photos are here.



Monday, April 22, 2013

Birds Galore

Red Crowned Parakeet
A few weeks ago we finally visited a nearby island bird sanctuary called Tiritiri Matangi. We've been meaning to go there since, oh, about a month after moving to Auckland. We're lame.

Over the last 30 years it's been made predator-free and heaps of trees were planted to make it a haven for birds. Many there are native, and many had to be re-introduced.

It didn't disappoint!  There are birds birds birds everywhere and doing the first part of the day with a guide makes it even better.

The way it works is you take a special ferry that goes once a day, pack a lunch a spend about 5 hours on the island that's full of trails, and then take the ferry back at the end of the day.  Takes about an hour to get there and works pretty well!

There were Red Crowned Parakeets like the one in this photo, Bellbirds (very musical), Tui, Stitchbirds, Brown Saddlebacks, the big New Zealand Pigeon, and the very rare (and huge) Takahe, of which there are only a couple hundred left in the world.

The volunteers there have setup a few sugar water stations for birds like the Bellbird to help you see them up close when they gather around to feast on the wonderfulness (apparently) that is sugar water.  The stitchbirds like it too, and it makes for quite the sing-song station.  Here's a brief clip of some:


I hauled along my giant telephoto lens for the day and got a few good shots of some of the birds.  See more photos here.

And finally, in case you're wondering, here's a map of where the island is in relation to central Auckland.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jeff's New Job!

I have completed my first week at my new job!  Yep, after more than 12 years contracting at Supervalu and the last 2.5 from New Zealand, I have an actual Kiwi job for an actual Kiwi Company.

It was quite unexpected and came up rather quickly, but I'm now a Senior Consultant at Theta Systems in Auckland.  I'll be doing similar work to what I have been doing, but with a lot more potential.

Walking away from SV was a hard thing to do - I was quite comfortable there and it was a good gig.  Working from home since moving has been nice, but I was ready for an actual office environment again.  I just felt right, I guess, and here we are.

There is so much to learn and do on a high visibility project, but that's part of the fun I guess.  It just so happens that my first two weeks on the job, though, are four day weeks because of Good Friday and Easter Monday.  So that's nice.  Well, it's just nice getting to have NZ public holidays off for a change!

The office is just 1.5km (< 1mile) from home so I can easily walk to work.  Nice.  And when it rains I can catch a bus a block from home and get dropped off two blocks from work.  Very nice.  I like that a lot.

So things are very exciting right now, what with Anne's new jobs as well.  It's great.  And let's just say there is lots of takeaway being had at our house lately.  :-)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rich & Judi in New Zealand!

A sunny day in Auckland
For the last three weeks in February, my mom and dad came back to New Zealand for a second time to see more of this country - oh and also probably to see us, too.  :-)

It was fantastic. They had amazing weather, saw beautiful places, did new & interesting things, and had good food and good wine.

We had a couple of days at our place in Auckland before starting things with a bang by doing one of the top 10 day hikes in the world - the Tongariro Crossing. Anne had to stay behind for work training unfortunately but the three of us conquered those volcanoes! It's like nowhere else - and the difficulty of the 8 hour hike made the next day relaxing in Taupo a good reward.

From there they went off for about a week on their own while job duties called for me.  They spent time in Napier/Hawkes Bay, Wellington, Picton, and Marlborough Wine Country before Anne and I rejoined them on the South Island.

A lovely drive down the east coast of the South Island To Kaikoura had us eating fresh crayfish (lobster) by the sea, seeing seals, and doing a lovely walk along the beautiful coast of the Kaikoura Peninsula.  From there we went on to Hanmer Springs where Anne and I had never been before.  Lovely!  The thermal pools were great and it's a lovely alpine village.

The lovely Abel Tasman coast
A couple of days in Nelson Lakes National Park were well spent with hikes and relaxation before heading up to the Abel Tasman National Park area.  We really saw and did some great things here - sea kayaking along the coast, a hike on the Abel Tasman Coastal Walkway, and saw seal pups swimming amongst people at a beautiful beach.  Wow.

They spent a couple days in Nelson after that (even went paragliding!) while we went back to Auckland - stupid job again!  But then we had a few days left in Auckland together where we had them get to know Ponsonby (where we live) a little better and even drove up to Matakana for some wine and beach time.

We've had a stunning summer weather-wise and they got to reap those rewards while they were here - sunny and warm most everyday it seemed.  We were thrilled about that!

Most of all we really really enjoyed spending time with them and sharing some more of this amazing place we live in.  New Zealand is really something, and it didn't disappoint!  It really meant a lot that they came back for a second visit and I think it's safe to say they had a blast.

Click here for more photos of our time together.

And click here for some video highlights, including those adorable seal pups and a sting ray "glide by".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Remy McSwain, Action Cat!

As usual I'm a little late getting to the blog, but in early January we got a cat! This is a big deal because Anne is allergic to...well, everything.  Certainly anything furry and cuddly.

But we finally decided to look into Siberians - which are naturally low in the protein that people get allergic to. We got on a kitten waiting list here in Auckland and a litter of 5 was born on September 30, 2012.

It wasn't until January that the allergen levels of each kitten was known and since we were first on the list we got to choose the one with the lowest levels in their saliva. This little guy is so low in allergens that Anne doesn't react at all - and now we have a kitty!  He was just over 3 months old when he came to our home and has grown like crazy since then!

We both love cats - me especially - so this is a real treat.  We have named this little gem Remy McSwain, Action Cat.  Cuz he kinda has an action here persona about him and this seemed like a good name for him.

He's mellow, sweet, loves to be held, plays and plays a good part of the day and NAPS a good part of every day, too.  He goes between completely mental and nap-master is no time at all. We love him to death!

Remy (then named Barney) at 5 weeks
As evidence of how smart the little guy is, he has recently figured out how to type and use the computer. So we helped him setup a blog so he could share with the world the awesomeness that is Remy.

So yeah, that's how we we roll.  You should check it out and sign up for updates when he posts them. (There is a "subscribe by email" section on the slide-out menu on the right side of the blog.)

Here's the address:
remymcswain.com